If anyone wonders why political candidates don’t want recording devices present in private fundraising pitches, here’s Exhibit B. (Exhibit A was Mitt Romney’s “47%” remarks.) Bruce Braley wanted cash from trial lawyers to help boost his chances of holding Tom Harkin’s seat for Democrats in November as part of the effort to keep Republicans from taking control of the Senate. Otherwise, Braley warned his fellow members of the bar, his efforts to block tort reform would get blocked by Chuck Grassley, who would become the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee if the GOP took over. And that would just leave some dumb farmer who never went to law school in charge, rather than a smart lawyer.
And hey, the state of Iowa is filled with smart lawyers, right? Right? Er …
Slate’s John Dickerson calls this the Gaffe of the Year, one so powerful that”the Environmental Protection Agency may seek to regulate it.” How awful is it? Let Dickerson “count the ways”:
Why is this so awful? Let us count the ways. Iowa is a farm state, and it’s never a good idea to disparage one of the state’s chief occupations. Next, it’s particularly not a good idea to demean your state when you’re somewhere else: In this case, Braley was speaking in Texas. Next, Braley, a trial lawyer, was making his pitch to a room full of trial lawyers at a private fundraiser (which is why he didn’t think he was being recorded). Trial lawyers are perhaps the most unpopular constituency among Republican base voters—besides Obama administration officials. Since midterm elections are all about motivating your base, Braley has given his opponent a turnout gift. Next, look where Braley is standing: If you’re going to talk down to Iowa farmers, at least don’t do it next to a table of booze. It makes for amusing viewing and that reinforces the idea for voters that you’re not one of them.
Dickerson says to expect more of this, thanks to the declining cost and space of recording technology:
Braley’s gaffe is the result of both the rise of money in campaigns and the ubiquity of technology. Candidates must raise more and more money—the average amount spent to win House and Senate races has doubled in 12 years—which means more and more evenings by the bar cart straining for money. Since technology is everywhere and cameras are small and always on (see: 47 percent), it also means there will be more opportunities to broadcast candidates when they are saying anything to get elected.
Well maybe, but this seems to be a rather extreme case. Not only is this a strange example of snobbery for a man running for office in a farm state, the argument itself is nonsense. Grassley has been on the Judiciary Committee for the entirety of his Senate career — and he’s in his sixth term in the Senate. He’s clearly experienced enough to run the Senate committee. Even if Grassley can’t argue at the bar himself, the American political system wasn’t designed to have lawyers writing laws for lawyers but citizens writing laws to govern themselves.
Now, one can argue that six terms in the Senate is an issue in and of itself, but that wasn’t Braley’s argument, and he’s not running against Grassley anyway. Braley was attempting to sell the election on behalf of trial lawyers. That may not be terribly unusual, but we rarely get to see an example this brazen.
Braley tried apologizing for the slam against farmers:
“I apologize to Senator Grassley and anyone I may have offended,” he said. “I respect Senator Grassley and enjoy our working relationship, even though we disagree on some issues.
He also noted he has supported policies that benefit Iowa farmers.
“My parents both grew up on Iowa farms during the Great Depression,” Braley said. “It deeply influenced who they are and who I am, and gave me a profound appreciation for what farmers do for the world. One of my grandfathers was a charter member of the Iowa Farm Bureau. I grew up in rural Iowa, doing farm jobs and working a grain elevator.
“I have tremendous respect for Iowa farmers and appreciate how important they are to our state, and I’m grateful to have the support of hundreds of farmers across Iowa,” he continued.
Hey, some of his best friends are farmers! Just don’t put them in charge, or anything.